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Military Inquests

Volume 598: debated on Wednesday 15 July 2015

On 13 July 2013, Army Reservists Corporal James Dunsby, Lance Corporal Craig Roberts and Lance Corporal Edward Maher were among 37 reserve soldiers taking part in an individual navigation exercise on the Brecon Beacons. Tragically, Lance Corporal Maher and Lance Corporal Roberts died while taking part in the exercise and Corporal James Dunsby was evacuated and died in hospital on 30 July 2013. An inquest into the circumstances of these tragic deaths heard evidence from 1 to 26 June 2015, and HM Senior Coroner for the City of Birmingham and the Borough of Solihull yesterday returned a narrative conclusion. The coroner has identified failings in the running of the exercise and has indicated that she will make a number of recommendations to the Ministry of Defence (MOD) in order to prevent future deaths.

I would like to apologise on behalf of the MOD and the armed forces for the deaths of Corporal Dunsby, Lance Corporal Roberts and Lance Corporal Maher. We would also like to offer our sincere condolences to their families and friends who have shown great dignity during what has been a very difficult period.

We accept the failings identified by the coroner and are truly sorry. In response to our own and the Health and Safety Executive’s investigations we have made a number of changes to the way this exercise and similar exercises are conducted. These changes include improvements to the preparatory training that reserves undertake and a thorough review of the risk assessment process to ensure that all those involved have been trained in the effective management of risks. A new tracker system has been implemented to improve monitoring of individual candidates and to enable two-way communications between directing staff and candidates. We are looking at how this can be further improved. We continually review our code of practice for the prevention and initial medical treatment of climatic injuries in the armed forces in order to minimise the risk of such tragic events. We will continue to work hard to ensure the code of practice is understood and followed.

Over the next few days the coroner will issue her report to prevent future deaths to the MOD. We will treat her recommendations with the utmost seriousness. We will ensure everything possible is being done to reduce the risk to personnel who undertake these types of exercise and to try to prevent a reoccurrence of these terrible events. The MOD will have 56 days to provide our formal response, a copy of which I will place in the Library of the House. As soon as civil investigations are complete we will initiate our own service inquiry to see where further lessons can be identified and improvements made. The Royal Military Police will also consider whether any non-criminal service offences appear to have been committed.

The reserves continue to form an important part of military capability, whether on operations or at home. We will continue to ensure that the reserves have the necessary training, skills and fitness levels to do the tasks required of them. It will always be necessary to train and test our military personnel to the highest possible level so that they can meet the challenges to national security that we face both in the UK and overseas.

Achieving this end does involve individuals having to push themselves and take some risk. However, as an organisation we must ensure that this is balanced with the need to ensure these risks are effectively mitigated. In this case, we did not do this and we accept full responsibility for these tragic deaths. We are determined to learn the lessons. I am the Minister who will be responsible for taking any corrective action forward. I will be writing to the families personally and will make myself available to meet them if they wish, and to facilitate any requests they might have.